In the media feminism is everywhere; and yet it is nowhere. Has popular culture forgotten feminism despite its consistent – albeit negative – reference to feminists? Feminists are usually labelled as narcissistic, anti-sex, anti-romance and inflexible. Postfeminism on the other hand is portrayed to promote reclamation of identity disdained of gender, critique or postmodern understandings. Negra (2009: 2) states that postfeminism is presented as pleasing, as opposed to “shrill feminism” and further extends “backlash” rhetoric of sexual values, work / life balance in society. This backlash against feminism takes various forms, for example blaming women’s unhappiness of feminist advances.
Gill (2007: 4) further calls postfeminism a sensibility where it is saturated by the “pervasiveness of neoliberal reasoning” thereby taking feminism into consideration and simultaneously rejecting it. Media portrayals define the developing relationship between popular culture, feminism and femininity. The discourse of choice has become so mainstream that women are presented as empowered agents, so long as they have a ‘sexy’ body. On the basis of the rhetoric of choice, women are depicted empowered through their sexy, feminine, thin and hairless bodies and thus virtually encouraged to attain similar ideals (Gill 2007). Hence, postfeminism and neoliberalism share similar ideologies through the notion of empowerment.
As I have mentioned earlier, neoliberalism and second wave feminism thrived at the same time, based on which Fraser (2009) points that feminism “served to legitimate a structural transformation of capitalist society”. I agree that there exists a union between second wave feminism and neoliberalism, and that feminism possibly thrived at the time. However, does neoliberalism negate paternalistic and patriarchal aspects of society? There has been a current resurgence of feminism, hence I do not agree that feminism legitimatised neoliberalism, but that neoliberal values created a vacuum where a bubbly, overly-cheerful kind of fake feminism came to exist. This erratic period between the second wave feminism and postfeminism defined a stereotypical appropriation of the feminist agenda – void of its political context – by neoliberalism.
What neoliberalism greatly brought to the table was the idea of agency, of choice being freely exercised. It focused on self-sufficiency of an individual while simultaneously undermining institutions that made self-sufficiency possible. For example, a woman undergoing cosmetic surgery in order to ‘fit in’ all the while assuming that she was in control of her life. In popular culture, increased rhetoric for the sexualisation of feminine bodies demand attractiveness, thereby enforcing sexualisation through heterosexist fantasies (Negra 2009). Many celebrities that appear in overly sexualised advertisements are eroticised in a manner that appeals to the heterosexual male gaze, for example rolling in the sand, or in a bed, etc.
Chambers (2013: 2) further calls the liberal capitalism a “fetishism of choice” i.e. if women make choices that are a disadvantage to them, it legitimates inequality since it arises from the discourse of choice. Here, choice is considered a weapon against feminist objections. When celebrities willingly participate in sexualised advertisements, they do so in a free-expression of their sexuality. In such scenarios I do not see choice challenging a neoliberal society, because eventually their bodies are objectified.
This clearly shows the resonance between neoliberalism and postfeminism. There is a contradiction between a neoliberal woman who is capable of changing her life for the good and a “freely-choosing, self-inventing subject” where the conceited exist. But where does it end really?
- Chambers, C. (2013) ed. by Freedan, R. and Stears, M. Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
- Fraser, N. (2009) Fortunes of Feminism: From State-Managed Capitalism to Neoliberal Crisis. London: Verso
- Gill, R. (2007) Gender and the Media. Cambridge: Polity Press
- Negra, D. (2009) What a Girl Wants?. London: Routledge